Growing old gracefully and disgracefully – and why you shouldn't care

When it comes to icons, Drew Barrymore is up there with the best of them in my book. Smart, witty and drop-dead gorgeous, she is an incredible role model for women.

So why did I end up frowning over an interview she gave with Glamour magazine last month?

In it, the 43-year-old Charlie’s Angels star talked as frankly as ever about her past demons and why this meant she would never have plastic surgery.

“I have an extremely addictive personality,” she said. “I’ve never done heroin and I don’t want to get plastic surgery because I feel like they’re both very slippery slopes. I feel if I try either, I’m going to be dead really soon.”

All well and very good, but it was what she said next that got me: “I feel ageing is a privilege. It’s about how to do it gracefully, with humour, self-love and a respect for the process, and that’s always been really important to me.”

Of course the papers picked it up, with the Evening Standard in London declaring: “Drew Barrymore: I’d get addicted to plastic surgery so I’m growing old gracefully.”

And it was that line that got me – “growing old gracefully”.

Stereotypes and the language around growing older have been bugging me a lot recently, spurred on by the magnificent Grandmother Williams.

She is the woman who told Philip Schofield off for telling her she was “young at heart”. Such language, she rightly said, is ageist. She is not young at heart because her heart, like the rest of her, is 81 years old. She is as old as she is – heart and all – and proud of it (one look at her bio and you can see why).

Aging gracefully is an art

There are whole dictionaries and thesauruses (thesaurusii?) projecting this idea that there is a right and a wrong way to talk about getting older – and “growing old gracefully” is among them.

The Daily Telegraph has a whole gallery praising women it has deemed as growing old gracefully, women who look amazing without having any work done to them.

I’m snookered. I’ve had fillers in my eyebags and botox on my frown lines and crows’ feet. The first left me with bumps around my eyes that I now hate and the second just made me feel weird (I have an expressive face that too easily shows my emotions – Mr 50Sense is always asking what I’m laughing at or frowning about when I write. Botox stopped me doing that and oooh, I suffered.)

They didn’t work for me, but that certainly doesn’t mean other women shouldn’t try them if they want. Nor does it mean they’re not growing old gracefully.

Sorry, Drew.

Of course, men have always had a “get-out-of-old-age-stereotypes-free” card. George Clooney is a silver fox, Daniel Craig is ruggedly handsome and Keith Richards is a rock god for – well, for just being Keith Richards.

Compare that with the “this is what 50 looks like” articles, Piers Morgan saying Madonna, at 58, is too old to dance or Dame Helen Mirren being told she’s too old for a backpack or more recently, the headlines because Salma Hayek has grey hair.

I admit, I love the fact that the women in the Telegraph’s gallery are embracing their age and yes, the phrase “growing old gracefully” sounds wonderful. I get images of demure dames in M&S dresses and American tan tights making jam and cakes for the grandchildren.

It’s all very genteel and nice and acceptable and Miss Marple-ish. It’s about being pleasing and attractive, in a grandma sort of way.

Not making a nuisance of yourself demanding to be treated the same as young people, not complaining about becoming invisible once you hit 45, not speaking out while someone 30 years younger explains how a computer works…

By growing old “gracefully”, you’re expected to accept how society sees older people. And that is as someone whose time has past and they accept that with good grace.

Stop complaining and wanting a life and pass the Werther’s Originals.

Also, I’m intrigued as to how you grow old disgracefully, because if you can grow old gracefully then you must be able to grow old the other way, too?

But how? By still loving punk and disco, as in my vision of the OAPs home of the future? By wearing skirts above the knee and the latest fashion trends? By being interested in politics and wanting a say on your society?

One of my favourite memories of living in Spain is seeing the old women at our local bar, drinking glasses of wine or beer and laughing uproariously at life – louder with each glass.

That’s what I plan to do. I’ve been going out since I was 16 and I don’t plan to stop when I’m 60 and beyond. Nor will I stop shouting at PMQs, listening to Depeche Mode or drooling over the latest catwalks.

And if someone can find me a way of getting rid of these eyebags without leaving behind lumps, I’m at the front of the queue even if I have to push everyone out of my way to get there.

As long as I enjoy what I’m doing, I’m going to keep doing it because growing older is about being who you are…

Whether that’s disgraceful or not is down to you.

What do you think? Do you plan to grow old gracefully or disgracefully – or just grow old? Leave me a comment below.

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Main photo: Katy Blackwood (CC BY-SA 4.0)